Nikola Tesla's Failure Debated
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times
Posted: May 10th, 2009
In 1901, Nikola Tesla began work on a global system of giant towers meant to relay through the air not only news, stock reports and even pictures but also, unbeknown to investors such as J. Pierpont Morgan, free electricity for one and all. It was the inventors biggest project, and his most audacious. The first tower rose on rural Long Island and, by 1903, stood more than 18 stories tall. Tesla, who lived from 1856 to 1943, made bitter enemies who dismissed some of his claims as exaggerated, helping tarnish his reputation in his lifetime. Today, his work tends to be poorly known among scientists, though some call him an intuitive genius far ahead of his peers. He was widely celebrated for his inventions of motors and power distribution systems that used the form of electricity known as alternating current, which beat out direct current (and Thomas Edison) to electrify the world. Around 1900 ... inventors around the world were racing for what was considered the next big thing wireless communication. [Tesla's] own plan was to turn alternating current into electromagnetic waves that flashed from antennas to distant receivers. The scale of his vision was gargantuan. Investors, given Teslas electrical achievements, paid heed. The biggest was J. Pierpont Morgan, a top financier. He sank $150,000 (today more than $3 million) into Teslas global wireless venture. But Morgan was [eventually] disenchanted. Margaret Cheney, a Tesla biographer, observed that Tesla had seriously misjudged his wealthy patron, a man deeply committed to the profit motive. “The prospect of beaming electricity to penniless Zulus or Pygmies,” she wrote, must have left the financier less than enthusiastic.
Note: This article underplays a number of things about Tesla. Morgan stopped funding him primarily because he eventually realized that there would be no way to charge for the electricity Tesla was generating. If successful, electricity would be available virtually for free to those supplied by his tower. Tesla was then shunned by the power elite and his rightful claim as inventor of the radio (not Marconi) was erased in the history books. As stated on the PBS website, "It wasn't until 1943 a few months after Tesla's death that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla's radio patent number 645,576." For more on this amazing man, click here and here.